Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Fairtrade Fortnight

I am glad that Fairtrade Fortnight is over.  I have not been home in an evening for about 3 weeks.  In Clackmannanshire, we had a visit from a Palestinian Fairtrade olive grower, a Guatemalan fairtrade coffee producer and we ran a Savour the Flavour, African cooking demonstration.
Taysir Arbasi from Palestine came to Alva on Friday 22nd when we showed the film The People and The Olive at No 140 in Alva.  A poor turnout, but we will show the film again at the MacRobert cinema on 18th June.

On Tuesday 5th March, Douglas Eloan Recinos Lópe, a Guatemalan coffee grower and Chairman of Fedecocagu, a co-operative of 19,354 small coffee growers, visited the Co-operative store in Alva, then on to the store in Bridge of Allan and finally on to Forth Valley College's Gallery restaurant for lunch.
In the evening of the Tuesday, I hosted a cookery demonstration at Resonate Arts House in Alloa.  Until 2.30 in the afternoon, it looked as if I was to be the one cooking as well as hosting it!
Fortunately, Stuart Hall of Forth Valley College pulled the kitchen staff out so that we could thank them after lunch.  He then asked if any of them would like to give a cookery demonstration that evening.  They all examined their shoes initially until a wonderful woman, Bernie Syme, volunteered and she press-ganged a fellow student, Neil Reid into helping her.
They were great!  Entertaining, efficient and educational , they produced the food which was appreciated greatly by the audience.  I am pleased that I did not have to demonstrate the cooking, although...
 Part of the food served were palmiers made from puff pastry and guava jam and shortbread biscuits made with macadamia nuts.  I made these on the Sunday before.  I have NEVER baked before!  One of the tables gave me 20 out of 10 for the biscuits.  Made my night!
I spoke to Alva Academy 1st & 2nd Year assembly and to Primaries 4, 5 and 6 at Craigbank Primary School.  I ran a Fairtrade themed Art competition for schoolchildren, wrote articles for newspapers and squeezed in lecturing and other activities as well

Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course

Last night was the final week of the last running of the Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course.  The Good Spirits Company is proving to be an excellent venue for it.
This class was a maximum attendance of 23, although only 20 sat the exam last night.  Good scores, everyone passed (as it is a leisure course, I'm not sure that anyone should fail, but we will see).  The poorest score last night was 55%, with the highest being 83% and the average being 69%.  And one student, Ian Hutchison, got a full 100% in the blind tasting; this is the first time in 15 years of running the course that anyone has done that.  The three whiskies were High Commissioner, Auchentoshan Select and Laphroaig 10.
Despite the course running at what is now The City of Glasgow College for 13 years, feedback forms were never a part of the package.  I inaugurated them in the courses which I ran in the autumn of 2012 and I must say that the responses have done great things for stroking my ego!
One thing which has come out of them is that a couple of this course's responses and one from the autumn's have said that the course is more advanced than they thought that it was going to be.  I refer to this course as the "entry level course", so perhaps I will look at being less informative/technical at least for the first couple of weeks.  I know that the course has evolved quite a bit from its first running back in 1999 because of a few of the students having been serial students (one has been on the entry level course six times!) and my adjusting the content to give them something extra.
Another thing which has come out of this batch of feedback is the timing of the distillery visit.  My thinking behind it has always been that they do 6 weeks of classroom study, then a distillery visit to bring everything together and then the exam on the last week.  Perhaps I should fit the distillery visit in around week 3 after they have done malt whisky production in week 1 and grain whisky production and the blend in week 2.  Food for thought before the next course starts on September 16th.

Friday, 9 November 2012

BenRiach Maltings reopen

Word came through this week that BenRiach's maltings have reopened.
Billy Walker, the company's MD, said: “From a commercial point of view, it makes no sense because the costs of producing malted barley are significantly more.  The reason we’re doing it is because we had everything in place and in fantastic condition.  Bolting the maltings onto BenRiach is a beautiful join-up.”
It brings to eight the number of distillers who malt at least a portion of their own barley.
Today, I have a meeting of Delph Pond Forum and can advise them that the group, of which I am the treasurer, has been successful in its bid for funding from The Co-operative's Community Fund.  The Forum is attempting to raise funds for interpretation boards around the pond giving visitors to the area and schoolchildren (as the park has been used by local schools as an outdoor classroom in the past couple of years) information about the area's flora and fauna.  We are gradually having the locals accept some responsibility for the area and to understand the importance of protecting the area's biodiversity.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Cutty Sark again at Lochgreen House

Tuesday night was again down in deepest Ayrshire, at Lochgreen House in Troon educating a group of Greek bartenders about blended whisky for Cutty Sark.  Our normal line up has been North British 5 yo, J&B, Cutty Sark, Dewar's White Label, Ballantine's & Johnnie Walker Red Label.  The guys and gals at Cutty see these as being what they call their "competitive set".
We've been doing these events for their overseas distributors and customers for about 18 months now.  Initially, I thought that they were being very brave, putting their juice up clinically against the opposition, but Cutty ALWAYS shows well.  The liquid is of fantastic quality.
The Greeks, from W.S. Karoulias, Cutty's distributors in Athens, wanted the competitive set changed, because they see the competition differently in Greece.  Thus, the line up this week was N.B. 5yo, Cutty, Dewar's, Grant's, Haig and J.W. Red.
Again, Cutty showed up wonderfully.  It is a long time since I last tasted either Grant's or Haig.  The Grant's showed well, but the Haig's flavour was flat, old-fashioned and exceedingly disappointing.
The group was quite knowledgeable, had a good command of English - sometimes one of the group has had to translate my words into Russian, Turkish or Portuguese and that adds to the length of the night.
We have dinner and then jump into a bus which takes us to Alloway, where we wander around the old churchyard and down to the Brig o' Doon where we drink Tam O' Shanter, Cutty Sark 25 yo.
It's a tough life...
Last night was a meeting of the Co-operative Area Committee in Stirling.  A relatively easy meeting, we dispensed £5,697.84 from the Community Fund to deserving organisations, but there were applications totalling over £11,000, so we had to disappoint some groups.
Today I found some tasting notes which had become buried in the paperwork on my desk.  I really must tidy it more regularly.  I will get them up onto the website within the next couple of days - I hope!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

I know, I promised to be more proactive with posts, keeping them up to date - and I haven't posted since May.
It has been a very hectic few months, especially the past 10 weeks.
I have been continuing with the Cutty Sark Whisky Academy, educating their overseas customers (and a few of Edrington's staff as well) on a) the quality of the liquid that goes into the Cutty bottle and b) the importance of the blended category to the industry and the on-trade.
have tasted a considerable number of malt whiskies as a pre-cursor to the writing and publication of the next edition of The Malt Whisky File scheduled for March, 2013.  A large proportion of these have been revisiting whiskies I have previously tasted and updating my tasting notes.  Some have improved the quality of the liquid, some have slipped.
I took the whisky courses, The Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course and the Advanced Whisky course out of the City of Glasgow College and held them in the premises of The Good Spirits Company in Glasgow.  I had to handle all the administration, copying of handouts, etc.  It involved me in a LOT more work, a bit more stress, but I think that I enjoyed it more.  At least Ithe students and I did not have to wade through the administrative morass which the City of Glasgow College created the past couple of times I held it there.  But I used two and a half reams of paper and 18/20 ink cartridges just for printing handouts.  These were things I had not taken into account when costing the exercise.
The entry level course was a big success with 25 enrolled.  (Really too many, I should stick to an absolute maximum of 22, but had held 2 places open for a couple of Tomatin's staff and, an hour after they advised they wouldn't be able to make it, Whyte & Mackay asked if they could enrol 3 of their staff.)  19 sat the exam with very good results - all 19 passed.  Despite the fact that I created this course in 1998 and have delivered it in an 8 week evening class format at least 20 times now, the colleges have never created a Feedback Form.  I did this time and, although almost all were effusive in their praise of the course, one suggested that I did not cover the basics sufficiently.  I will now make a wee change or two to weeks one and two.
My break-even point is 12 students.  The Advanced course was supposed to have 12, but one advised a week before it was due to start that he wouldn't make it.  We ran with 11, but I think that I lost money in doing that.  (Note to self:  be more firm with this.)
Deanston finally opened the visitor centre at the distillery in May and it seems as if it is doing the business.  I was there yesterday and the place was stowed out: cars parked everywhere, queues of people waiting to take a tour and the coffee shop had no free seats when I arrived at 2.00p.m. for a meeting.  The level of business they were doing meant that my meeting took place in several bits of free space at the till.
I have been attempting to get some golf in and had done well over the winter, getting out almost every week at least once.  Managed a round in the last week in June, no golf July or August and, over the past 10 weeks managed to fit golf in three times.
Maybe I'll manage to fit more rounds in over the winter, although, as I said above, I am supposed to be compiling the next edition of the MWF and the next entry level course starts on 14th January.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

At long last

So much for good intentions.  Late last year, I determined that I would post more frequently and look, 6 weeks pass.
Much has happened.
The inaugural Spirit of Stirling Whisky Festival passed off very efficiently and successfully.  It seems that the small, "hand-knitted" festivals are working best in Scotland.  Whisky Magazine seems to have given up the idea of Whisky Live! in Scotland and has gone for a different Format, Whisky Luxe! with highly priced tickets (£150.00 a day) and in Edinburgh in September.  Obviously hoping to catch the tail end of Edinburgh Festival tourism.
Have moved the Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course out of the college.  The chaos students experienced over the past 3 years when attempting to enrol has caused this.  On top of the fact that the students on the Advanced course wanted it on a Thursday or Friday and the college is not open on these evenings.  So I am taking them to The Good Spirits Company at 23, Bath Street, Glasgow.
We only announced it last Friday lunchtime and already, the Advanced has 16 confirmed students and the entry level course 12, so both will go ahead.  Minimum 12, maximum 22, over this number, the students' benefit reduces.  I know why educational campaigners argue for smaller class sizes, because 25 and over, the lecturer/teacher's focus gets dissipated.
Delivered the course for a group of 5 interested enthusiasts from South Africa: 3 days in the classroom and 2 days at distilleries.  Worked well, although some of the content had to be compressed and they went away happy.
The Cutty Sark Whisky Academy programme continues with students recently from Kazakhstan, Ukraine, the US and the Caribbean.  More next week from Europe and Turkey.   A a result of this course, it seems that I am now famous in Brazil.  I must get over there and see for myself!
Have allowed Robin Tucek to persuade me that it is sensible and financially attractive to publish the next edition of The Malt Whisky File ourselves.  Have started work on this, but am nowhere near as far through it as I had hoped to be at this point.  Voluntary activities are getting in the way,
The Clackmannanshire bid for Fairtrade status which I am leading has been successful so far, but I am still waiting for advice about certain aspects of the application form which I had targetted to submit by last Wednesday.  We have been very successful in achieving a very high level of media interest, so I am hopeful that I will achieve the goal by end June.
Have tutored a couple of Fairtrade wine tastings for the Co-operative, one in Falkirk and one in Perth.  Both went very well and am receiving requests to deliver the same evenings at other venues for the Co-op. 
Also delivered a Greek tasting for The Scottish Wine Society.  Opened a lot of their eyes to the quality coming out of Greece at the moment and confused them with Greece's indigenous varietals.  I also did something very unusual, the tasting was three whites, three reds and finished with another white.  When I ordered the Gerovassiliou wines, I ordered the wrong one.  The final wine should have been Ovilos Red, what I got was Ovilos white, a blend of Semillon and Assyrtiko.  Fortunately, this is a stunning wine and still stood out above everything before it, including Gervassiliou's Avaton which In thought was magnificent.
I have been appointed a Director/Trustee of Forth Environment Link, a local environmental charity for which I have been a volunteer for 4 years.  They are doing great work to have a network of orchards across the Forht valley and about to campaign for improved cycleways around Stirling.  The Love Food, Hate Waste campaign has been going for some years now, but experience, such as that at our recent Delph Pond Biodiversity Day, shows that the public is still pretty ignorant about it.  Thus I am represnting FEL at the Tillicoultry Gala in June.
Saw a great day of rugby at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow. Kirsty's first experience of rugby as a spectator.  The HSBC Glasgow 7s.  Naturally, Scotland were beaten, sadly, but we saw some exciting and adventurous play from some world class players.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ardbeg in space

If I had received this 10 days ago, I would have though, "What an adventurous April Fool's item." However, this is the 10th of April, so it isn't a jape.
Ardbeg has despatched "research vials of precious Ardbeg-crafted molecules", pieces of oak from their casks into space to rest for 2 years in an experiment to compare how terpenes behave in near-zero gravity as compared with their performance here on Earth.
"Ardbeg is taking part in an experiment led by US-based space research company NanoRacks LLC to test these micro-organic compounds. The maturation experiment will test the interaction of these Ardbeg-crafted molecules with charred oak. This will take place in normal gravity on Earth and also microgravity, far up in space on the International Space Station.
The vials contain a class of compounds known as “terpenes” – a set of chemicals which are very widespread in nature and often very aromatic and flavour-active – as well as other molecules. It is the interaction of these molecules with oak wood that forms the basis of this maturation experiment.
This experiment could explain the workings of these large, complex molecules as they will remain on the International Space Station for at least two years and help uncover new truths about the change that these molecules undergo in this near zero-gravity environment.
It could also have applications for a variety of commercial and research products, including future generations of Ardbeg.
Working in close collaboration with the Ardbeg Distillery team in Scotland, the US team will closely monitor the experiment against control samples here on Earth; both in Houston, Texas at the NanoRacks' facility, and also in Warehouse 3 at Ardbeg Distillery on the Scottish island of Islay.
Michael Johnson, Chief Technical Officer of NanoRacks LLC, said: “By doing this microgravity experiment on the interaction of terpenes and other molecules with the wood samples provided by Ardbeg we will learn much about flavours, even extending to applications like food and perfume. At the same time it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.”
And to further emphasise the serious nature of this research, Ardbeg's Dr. Bill Lumsden, is today addressing to the Edinburgh Science Festival with a talk entitled "Whisky Wisdom - Scotch Whisky: Science, Art or Myth?"
Bill is quoted as saying,
This experiment will throw new light on the effect of gravity on the maturation process. We are all tremendously excited by this experiment: who knows where it will lead?”